The Internet loves a good feud and things can rapidly turn into conspiracy theories held together by screenshots and video compilations. And one of the web’s most (in)famous feuds is the Hailey-Selena saga which recently got a lot of traction. The women have never said anything negative about each other in public and yet, if you enter either side of the debate, people will lead you to believe that they absolutely hate each other.
While this is common in Internet feuds, the ‘obsession’ (for the lack of a better word) with ‘Helena’ points to a larger problem: a lot of it is rooted in misogyny.
How Did it All Start?
The root of the feud rests in 2018, when Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber officially parted ways and the latter got engaged to Hailey Bieber a few months later. The Internet rapidly split into Team Selena and Team Hailey. A few events later, people online had tagged Hailey as the ‘mean girl’ and a ‘bully’.
In January 2023, Selena Gomez faced misogynist comments and body-shaming online after pictures of her from her holiday in Mexico surfaced online. Later, Bieber shared a video with Kendall Jenner with the viral audio: “I’m not saying she deserves it, but I’m saying God’s timing is always right.” Fans linked the two videos, alleging that the video was aimed at Selena.
These fan theories saw a surge in 2023 after Gomez shared a video on Instagram joking that she “accidentally laminated eyebrows too much”. Soon after, Kylie Jenner posted a selfie with the caption, “This was an accident????” placed over her eyebrows, followed by a screenshot of a video call with Bieber zoomed into their eyebrows.
There’s more happening. After an old video of Hailey Bieber mock gagging at the mention of Taylor Swift’s name resurfaced online, Selena (on 23 February) commented, “So sorry, my best friend is and continues to be one of the best in the game”. Beyond this, Hailey’s fans have also accused Selena Gomez of ‘fanning the feud’.
What’s the ‘Feud’? And Where Does the Misogyny Lie?
After Justin and Hailey announced their engagement, several people accused Hailey of “stealing” Justin from Selena (since ‘Jelena’ had a whole separate fanbase). After eyebrow-gate, videos surfaced on the Internet claiming that Justin is still in love with Selena and actually doesn’t love…his wife.
This concept of pitting two women against each other, especially with a man’s affection in the middle, is deeply rooted in misogyny. It’s a phenomenon that has long been used to further cement the patriarchal idea that women can never support each other – something conversations about ‘women supporting women’ and the importance of female friendships are trying to combat.
Several comments under Hailey Bieber’s post for Justin’s birthday call her names and say things on the lines of ‘Free Justin’ while others argue that if he wanted to exit the marriage, he would.
This dichotomy of creating a good person vs a ‘mean girl’ comes from the way films have positioned the ‘mean girl’ archetype. In several movies, especially popular in the early 2000s, the protagonist would be tormented by the gorgeous, popular ‘mean girl’. This ‘mean girl’ was given no back story and absolutely no other attributes because then you run the danger of viewers actually viewing her as a person. This is something that happens online as well.
Fans ascribe qualities to celebrities they dislike and this snowballs into feuds and hate comments because, lo and behold! We do not know celebrities personally.
This is, of course, not to say that bullying doesn’t exist on the Internet or within and beyond the entertainment industry. It is the reactionary, violent response that people online have to feuds that exist almost primarily on the internet that requires attention. Whether Hailey Bieber and Selena Gomez like each other or not is another matter and is practically none of our business but there’s a difference between defending your favourite star and cyber attacking someone else.
The tendency to call women ‘manipulative’ or accusing them of ‘stealing’ a man isn’t new and has often accompanied manufactured catfights online. And this case is not very different.
What Have the Stars Actually Said?
As the hate comments continued to pile on, footage from Justin Bieber’s performance at the Rolling Loud festival recently featured attendees chanting “F**k Hailey”. Gomez had asked her followers on TikTok to be “kinder and consider others’ mental health”.
On Instagram, Selena Gomez wrote, “Hailey Bieber reached out to me and let me know that she has been receiving death threats and such hateful negativity. This isn’t what I stand for. No one should have to experience hate or bullying. I’ve always advocated for kindness and really want this all to stop.”
Amid all this, Gomez and Hailey Bieber started following each other on the social media app and netizens hailed it as a moment in history (and when it comes to pop culture, it might as well be).
A few hours later Hailey Bieber posted a long note thanking Selena and calling out the social media hate.
“I want to thank Selena for speaking out, as her and I have been discussing the last few weeks how to move past this ongoing narrative between her and I.”
Even before this, both Selena and Hailey have attempted to dispel rumours about a rivalry: one of the most notable times would be them being clicked together at the Academy Museum Gala in 2022.
Under the TikTok video accusing Kylie and Hailey of making fun of Selena’s eyebrows, Kylie had replied, “This is reaching. No shade towards Selena ever and I didn’t see her eyebrow posts! U guys are making something out of nothing. This is silly.”
Not only that, Selena reacted, “Agreed @kyliejenner. It’s all unnecessary. I’m a fan of Kylie!”
Ironically, many (many) comments under posts where Selena asks people to not be unkind to others are hateful comments directed towards Hailey. For instance, people view the fact that Hailey allegedly reached out to Selena as a ‘victory’ of sorts while others have labeled the latter as ‘manipulative’.
Coming to the claims that Hailey ‘stole’ a grown man, she addressed it in the ‘Call Her Daddy’ podcast,
Will We Learn? Probably Not
So, where does this insistence on creating feuds come from? That’s a complex answer rooted in celebrity worship, our love for salacious gossip, and (more often than not) misogyny. Some have even theorised that this feud continues because the traction brings views. TikTok videos “exposing” Bieber as someone who ‘copies Selena’ or accusing the other of “fanning the feud” have millions in views.
It would also explain why major brands felt the need to piggyback on the feud and tweet about being ‘Team Selena’ (mostly) or why food chains thought it’d make sense to put up tip jars labeled with the two actors’ names.
Gossip is delicious, there’s no denying it: look at everything that happened while Don’t Worry Darling was being promoted (that’s a whole different discussion, sure). But through the anonymity granted by pixels on a screen, we have a tendency to forget the line between conspiracy theories and cyberbullying. And it’s a thick line.
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